There's no rest for the wicked, tattooed, stupid, hyperactive, or criminally insane.
With the Westie Scrags mere smoky wisps in the humidor of our minds (sorry – doing a full final episode post now would be quite lame), we welcome back Tyra, the Jays, and a bunch of psychotic, fundamentalist-christian mall-rat modules in the first installment of the drag pantomime, drunk auntie member of the NTM family: America's Next Top Module.
For those of you new to the US show, ANTM is a little bit like a televised modelling competition, with one vital difference: It's a ridiculous, melodramatic farce. Every new series is exponentially more ludicrous, and I predict big things this time – if last series included a photo shoot with motorized hairpieces, my expectations, like the show's producers, are high.
The first episode did not disappoint. Mail-order brides, tattoos, borrowed hair, boot-camp, dentistry. Not just words from a game of Scrabble in prison. Contestants in the When Something Is Wrong With My Crazy episode of America's Next Top Model.
· Let's not be under any illusions here. Tyra Banks is out of her gourd. The hair and ba-zooms might be a bit tamer this time around, but there's still some serious neural-synapse hiccupping going on. It may be for this reason that the 33 semi-finalist modules are taken in a bus to a military outpost for what is dubbed 'Model Boot Camp'. The 'Model' part of the equation is taken care of by the motley clutch of pipe-cleaners that tumbles out of the bus. The 'Boot' part is introduced when the modules are asked to change into white singlets, camouflage trousers and high-heeled boots. The 'Camp' part is executed efficiently when a jeep rolls up containing Jay Manuel, stylist, (still clinging desperately onto platinum hair and shaped man-brows), and Miss Jay, catwalk trainer (tiny army shorts clinging desperately to the only definitively male part of him). Both Jays launch into stereotypical Boot Camp behaviour, including spouting the glorious phrase "You bunch of model maggots". I take a sip of incredulous elixir and release a satisfied sigh. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
· With the inevitability of gastric reflux, a distant thundering is heard, and across a bridge, accompanied by khaki-clad dancers, Tyra comes a-stompin' and a-hollerin' into shot. Bitch is crazy. She dances. She chants. She sends ripples of military wiggle through the ample comfort cladding each limb. Hackneyed clichés tumble from her lips like "You can't handle the truth!" (the truth perhaps being that you've stacked on the fried chicken), "I love the smell of hair and make-up in the morning" (not to mention the smell of fried chicken), and "I want Top Guns, not top sons-of guns" (which makes no sense, but.. you know… something about chicken).
· Model Boot Camp, despite all its hype, consists of a two-minute posing challenge and a handful of questions about designers and photographers. Whilst the idea of thirty-odd identically-dressed models being drilled by two sashaying limptenants should be interesting, I'm momentarily distracted by the idea of cotton.
· The first episode of any series is always confusing, as new faces and names are flashed incessantly in one's face and one desperately tries to capture the essence of each in between making horrified facial expressions and sweeping hand gestures at one's television. That said, my impressions of those who made a dent are as follows:
o Natasha – I love Natasha with all of my heart, soul, kidneys and spleen, because she's an absolute, no-holds-barred, point-and-whisper mess. She came to America at 18 as mail-order bride to a 40-year-old husband. Her command of English is tentative at best and possibly gleaned from watching The OC. She over-acts everything she does. She's sure she can win. She has strong opinions and is not afraid to voice them. Her hair looks like she uses glue and an iron in her morning beauty routine. She must, MUST stay for a long time, purely for my entertainment, and for the opportunity to transcribe her verbal offerings in that condescending way that only white, Western, English-speaking Anglo-Saxons such as myself can. As long as she keeps offering nuggets like "The Jays are here! I can't belief I am seeing them alive!", I will be her devoted slave.
o Sarah – Tall, gawky, geeky, with short blonde hair, a badly-shaped nose, and a know-it-all, teacher's pet attitude. Fancies herself as a photographer. Miss Jay thinks she's "adorable". I think she's "not going to last past episode four". If there's a book going that she's buttered on the frigid side of life, I'm putting a twenty on it.
o Micheline – Gorgeous face. Excellent rock n' roll attitude. Wickedly quirky bowling-alley-meets-biker-gang fashion sense. Twenty large tattoos. Bugger America's Next Top Model – there's a vacancy for My Current Role Model.
o Heather – from Deer Park, which is where I assume she got her Deer In Headlights look from. All doe-like sweetness goes out the window, however, when she impersonates her father, the drill sergeant, at Tyra's request at her casting. Jay is terrified and drops to give her twenty, whilst Miss Jay is unmoved, raising an eyebrow and saying "I don't do push-ups, baby".
o Renee – Stunningly pretty face, and sure she has "character and determination" over the other girls. She also has a husband, a 7-month-old son, a ridiculously toned abdomen, and the ability to cry in a vacuum.
o Jael – Short, tousled blonde hair, a long body, a voice made in Marlboro Country and the self-esteem of a one-legged sweat-shop worker. Somehow she endears herself to me – it may be the fact that even though she's whiter than white, her father is black. It could be the fact that she's the kind of girl you want to have a beer with. But it's most likely the fact that she wears a red tutu.
o Kathleen – hoooooooo boy. Kathleen is going to be a freakin' quote goldmine. I wish I could emulate her Brooklyn sing-song wail in print, especially when she keeps interrupting her own spiel by repeating the phrase "Tyra, you just so PRETTY" over and over. She admits that her MaxiFro is a fake, which is a relief to anyone wondering how a human head could possibly sprout that fuzzy a thang. Let's call Kathleen enthusiastic. And a bit of a screamer.
o Cassandra – Girl, you colourblind or what? Wearing three layers and fifteen different colours, Tyra and the Jays leap to re-style her. Colour, however, is not the most noticeable thing about Cassandra. Cassandra has her weave sewn to her head. Sewn. To her head.
o Brittany – Short of hair, big of mouth. A bartender with a spitty kind of speech impediment. Bye.
o Samantha – Honey, tell the truth – what the fuck's happening with your eyebrows? I'm no expert, but I don't think they're supposed to make a square around your entire eye. And if you don't want the editors to keep playing banjo music in the background of every scene you're in, maybe don't tell people you took part in a butter-bean festival back home whilst showing them your missing tooth-hole. Apart from that – yes, Tyra. She's the spit of a young Janice Dickinson.
o Melissa – only 5'7", and had to borrow her own hair-weave back from a friend to make the auditions in time. Pure class.
o Dionne – somewhere from her avalanche of boring, relentless monotone dribbles the pearler "modeling and dentistry are my passions". Talks the leg off a donkey. Bores the shit out of me.
o Natalie – Natalie is on crack. She says, slowly, that she loves Audrey Hepburn, and that Dinner At Tiffany's is her favourite movie. Oops. "I mean Lunch At Tiffany's" she says.
o Jaslene – I never understood why this girl didn't make it to the final in Series Seven, as she's completely freakin' gorgeous. Sure, she's Latina, insane, and hyperactive, but that's just cute. Go, Jaslene. Strike a pose. Take a Valium. Kick some arse.
o Felicia – okay, enough with the freaky eyebrows. Jessica seems to have shaved off her own and replaced them with a pair she stole from a much, much smaller person. Fancies herself as a Tyra look-alike, pre-twelve-piece-bucket. Raps her way out of the room. I don't know why, but she creeps me out. If I start having nightmares about intense people with wobbly heads and no eyebrows, I'll be very upset.
o Whitney – plus-size (ie fat) model number one. Whitney is twenty-one going on forty, and she can't stop her boosies falling out of her frock. Reading from the plus-size model script, she says that she wants to be the first plus-size Next Top Model. This will not happen.
o Diana – plus-size model number two – the white version. Pretty. Fat. Days. Numbered.
· The wanna-be modules are whittled down to twenty, and sent to a party to pose for paparazzi-style shots, which are then scrutinized by Tyra and the Jays. Spunky Nigel is noticeably absent, and I'm worried that he may still be handcuffed to my bed, and hence unable to make the shoot.
· Elimination time, and each finalists' name is read out by Tyra, who inserts the usual pregnant pauses and drawn-out suspenseful sentences. My tattooed lady doesn't make it, but both plus-size girls do. When did fat become a more desirable token minority signpost than body-art? It's a world gone crazy. Both sets of disturbing eyebrows also make the cut, signaling another series of Freaks trumping Beauties. Here we go. I'm ready. I have a new bottle of gin in the freezer.
Next week, the modules move into their mansion, undergo their first meaningful social-issue photo-shoot, and settle in for a good couple of months of catty tantrums. Suitcase. Charity case. Headcase.